Bits & Pieces: Champagne, Kulemin, Kaberle, Phaneuf


    Though the news in Leaf Nation has been relatively quiet of late, there have been a few intriguing storylines making the rounds. Joel Champagne will re-enter the draft, Nik Kulemin and the Maple Leafs have hit a contract impasse, Tomas Kaberle is reportedly gathering interest from a number of teams, and a member of the Toronto media raised a few eyebrows with a blog post regarding the relationship between Dion Phaneuf and Ron Wilson.


    As many have speculated, the major reason for the team allowing Joel Champagne to re-enter the draft, rather than  sign him to an ELC, had to do with ability; namely, his skating is well below par and as a result management wasn’t sure of his future in the speed game of the NHL.  Square peg, round hole. However, as with most things, there appears to be a lot more to the story than that.

    The latest talk around the campfire suggests Champagne wanted a max ELC, which given the team’s uncertainty about his NHL future was a no-go from the start. Speculation is he was viewed by the team as more likely to be a career minor-leaguer than an NHL regular, and rather than sign on under such a pretext he wanted to try to make it to the bigs elsewhere. Teams rarely allow prospects to walk because of a singular flaw in their game, so there does appear to be more than meets the eye here. Whatever the reason(s), if Champagne is to prove he can indeed become a successful pro, it appears as though it will have to happen within another organization.


    By now, you’ve all heard or read of the contract impasse between Nikolai Kulemin and the Maple Leafs. From what I’ve gathered, the KHL is not a factor. By all accounts, Kulemin wants to remain in Toronto, but at a different price point than what the Leafs‘ brass has in mind.

    Here’s the deal: Team Kulemin (read: his agent) wants a deal based upon projections of the production he could generate with a full season skating on the top line alongside Phil Kessel, as opposed to what he actually produced last season, the second half of which he played predominantly on the top line.  The Leafs, on the other hand, want to pay him at a price point closer to what he actually produced, as opposed to what the (rather subjective) projections might suggest he can produce in the upcoming season(s). To illustrate, here’s a rough scale:

    09-10 Production ———-(TML)———————-(NK)———- Top Projections

    Where Kulemin wants to play isn’t a part of the impasse, nor (from what I gather) is term. But the dollar figure remains a sticking point, as both sides are locked into opposing perspectives on how that number should be determined. A lot of numbers have been kicked around in the media, and for the record I have not been able to confirm whether those are accurate or speculative.  However, there is to date no animosity between the two sides, and the assumption is both will find a way to meet somewhere in the middle prior to July 1st.


    Reportedly, five teams are interested and naturally there has been a ton of speculation as to which teams may have inquired. Some of the teams cropping up in the rumours have been long-tied to interest in Kaberle; others are somewhat surprising.

    To wit, expect to see the old Pittsburgh and St.Louis rumours re-ignite as the draft approaches.  Others rumoured to be in that group include Boston, Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, and Nashville (say what? I know, but it’s out there).  Of course, as with all things of this nature, the story tends to change depending upon who is telling it, so be advised to not perceive these rumours as more than what it actually are: that is, good food for thought.

    At the end of the day, it’s likely to be a moot point anyway as (a) Brian Burke is unafraid to wait as long as it takes until he has an offer he likes, and (b) the list of teams interested in Kaberle’s services is expected to grow substantially in the weeks leading up to the draft.

    Phaneuf / Wilson

    (Author’s note: “Sigh …”) What’s a summer in Toronto without some manufactured drama to fill the postseason void? Recently, a member of the Toronto media suggested that Ron Wilson’s frequent praise of Dion Phaneuf has raised the ire of several Leafs‘ players, while alluding to claims by a Calgary columnist that Phaneuf’s troubles in Calgary (both on-ice and off) stemmed from receiving similar public praise and adulation from coaches and management.

    For what it’s worth, my own bird dogs have strongly refuted the notion of a coach or GM’s praise having negative effects on Phaneuf, or the locker room for that matter.  Personally, I don’t know if there is any truth to the story or not, although I am somewhat intrigued by the fact that the Flames’ situation continued to deteriorate following the trade.  Not to mention the positive reaction, at season’s end, from various Leafs’ players to the suggestion of Phaneuf possibly wearing the “C”.  But it’s out there, so here we are.

    In an interview with our pals over at TorontoSportsMedia, Leafs’ GM Brian Burke, when told who the reporter was, responded with a terse “next question” before going on to dismiss the story more thoroughly.  The interview can be found here, and is well worth a listen.

    Looking forward to your thoughts as always,